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A Guide to UXR Portfolios

Updated: May 5

A white pencil is aligned to the left of the photo. It sits on a black background.
Sometimes it feels like this is what we've got to show.

Portfolios are hard. They’re supposed to represent your philosophy, process, work breadth, and skill sets. They’re supposed to tip the odds of getting a job into your favor. But every hiring manager, recruiter, and potential teammate has something specific they’re looking for in a candidate’s portfolio. And you’re working in a limited medium: a website.

Lots of people have already written great advice about the finer points of building a design portfolio. But I want to focus on UX, product, and design, because this still feels like a very uneasy relationship.

We sometimes lull ourselves into a mindset of “as long as I have strong case studies and sharp examples of my work, it doesn’t really matter what the portfolio looks like.” Or worse, we send a Dribbble link and call it a day.

But that would be like shipping a brand new iPhone out in a plastic baggie. Or pouring a beautiful, hand-crafted soy candle into an unwashed jelly jar. It’s hard to value the product because of the packaging. And the product in a UX portfolio is more finicky than a website design or an app flow.

Maybe, when you’re not a traditional designer or you don’t have polished mocks to show for your work, your portfolio IS the portfolio.

Seize the Day

Consider this post a challenge to the user experience-focused design community: portfolios are your chance to walk your talk.

  • Are you a Product Designer? Treat your portfolio with all the care and attention to detail you would a company’s product.

  • Are you a UX Designer? Then take your time and make your portfolio the epitome of a usable interface.

  • A UX Writer? Agonize over every word so that the experience is natural and seamless for your readers.

  • User Researcher? Apply all that human psychology to the thing you’re building. Show me, don’t tell me.

Basically, your portfolio IS your portfolio.

Remember the guiding principles of a good user experience? They all apply to your portfolio.

  1. Know Your Audience Not everyone has analytics on their portfolio sites (and frankly, ya don’t really need them). This is where your experience and imagination shine. Who looks at portfolio sites? Make a list. What are their goals and motivations? Write those down. What pieces of your work, process, and background will appeal to those viewers? Categorize and organize.

  2. Prioritize and Structure Now that you have a better idea of who might be coming to your portfolio site, do your design thing! You’ve got this — that’s why you’re building the site in the first place, yeah? To show you’re a badass UX or Product Designer that people will be clamoring to hire. Take your time. Do it right. This may be the only project where you are the client and the designer and can do everything the most ideal way possible. Revel in it!

  3. Accessibility for All This part can get tricky depending on your skill levels. I’m locked into using a service like Wix or Square to make my site because I don’t code. Do your homework and test on as many devices as possible (or, like, send it to your mom and see if she can break it) before you start sharing widely. You never know how or where someone will come to your site. And if you’re up to date on your ADA web compliance and WCAG pointers, show it off!

  4. Bonus Points If you’re building your portfolio, be realistic about your skills. Not a copywriter? Have a trusted copywriter friend review your words. Then give them a link and a shoutout on your site. Not a visual designer? Get some pointers and professional feedback from someone who excels at making things beautiful. Then give them a link and a shoutout on your site. Not only will it make your portfolio site better, show that you’re a good and resourceful collaborator, but it’s also just #goodkarma.

Does your portfolio, in whatever form it takes, clearly convey the structure, planning, understanding of audiences, and accessibility considerations that are unique to UX professionals?

Marketing 101

I’ve looked at hundreds of UX-focused resumes and portfolios in the last five years. And almost all of them could dramatically benefit from one basic marketing principle:

The consumer does not care about your company.

Let me explain. In marketing-land, when we took on a new client, the client always said things like, “I want a really great video interview with our founder front and center on the homepage!” or “The About page really matters to me because I want people to know where we came from!”

People don’t care. Consumers don’t care.

Consumers want to know what your company can do for them, first and foremost. They have a need they are trying to fill and they don’t have a lot of time.

If you can show that you meet that need in the first six seconds they’re on your site, they might be willing to read about your giving back program and your CEO’s deep history in the industry. Maybe.

Think about your portfolio in a similar way. Who are your consumers? A recruiter has a position they’re trying to fill (literally), they have 15 portfolios to review in addition to the application forms and managing all their other responsibilities.

In the first six seconds on your site, can they confidently say you fill the need they have? Or are you trying to woo them with your quirky personality and flair for parallax?

In the recruiting and portfolio games, no one is buying YOU. Not yet. You will matter in the team interviews and later steps. But up front, at a glance, are your solutions a good match with the problems they’re trying to solve?

My Two Cents

Having helped review and hire, and then having the chance to work with the people we hired, I have a pretty keen sense for what I’m looking for in other UX professional’s portfolios. If you’d like my two cents, here they are:

  • 1 Cent: Please have a process. Clearly articulating your process tells me a lot. I won’t have to hand-hold you if you join us — you know what you’re doing. I can immediately see where we differ and how you could grow or complement our current structure. If you can express flexibility or adaptability or timelines around your process, even better. (For example: “I love to do Google-style design sprints, but realize we won’t always have time for that. I’ve successfully done 2-day workshops that surfaced the information we needed and kept us on track.”)

  • 2 Cents: Back up your claims. Use your case studies and work samples to tie back in to and provide detail around the steps in your process. Help me understand what you did and where you asked others to jump in. Most of us don’t have the ability (or luxury?) to be a one-person team, so demonstrate how you collaborate with others.

The unseen benefit of taking so much time and craft with your portfolio? It’s practice. You’re memorizing and rehearsing the process, timeframes, deliverables, and value you bring to the table. So when you get to the interview phase, this stuff will be rote — you won’t have to stutter over your process. Your quirky personality can shine!

This post was first published by UX Collective on Medium.

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